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Hezbollah wins


By David Morrison, 28 August 2006


“Israel has made itself the least safe place in the world for a Jew to live, a terrible reflection on the calamity of Zionism for its own people and others.”
(Tim Llewellyn)



On 11 August 2006, after 30 days of warfare, the Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1701 [1], calling for “a full cessation of hostilities” in Lebanon. The cessation eventually occurred on the morning of 14 August 2006. By then, over 1,000 people had been killed, and thousands injured, in Lebanon and Israel, a million Lebanese had been displaced, and billions of dollars worth of damage had been done to civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.

At any time since 12 July 2006 when the hostilities began, the US could have brought the Israel’s military assault on Lebanon to a halt, and prevented this carnage. If it had done so, the Hezbollah retaliation – the firing of rockets into Israel – would also have come to a halt. Hezbollah said so from the outset.

President Bush chose not to do so, and was loyally supported by Prime Minister Blair in not doing so, because both of them were fully behind Israel’s attempt to destroy Hezbollah’s military capacity, and by so doing to weaken its allies, Syria and Iran. They chose to support Israel in this enterprise, despite the death and destruction being visited on Lebanon as a whole by Israel’s military machine, while publicly pretending that they were just supporting Israel’s acting in self-defence - and weeping crocodile tears over the dead and injured, while replenishing Israel’s stock of munitions and aviation fuel to kill and injure more.

No need of resolution

There was no need for a Security Council resolution to bring about a ceasefire, nor for a UN peacekeeping force. All that was necessary at any time was that the US tell Israel to stop its military assault on Lebanon, in which case Hezbollah would have stopped firing rockets into Israel. And, providing the US leaned hard enough on Israel, the ceasefire would have lasted.

The ceasefire finally happened on 14 August 2006. It could have happened a month earlier, if the US had decided to make it happen. It happened on 14 August 2006 because about a fortnight earlier the US decided that the game was no longer worth the candle. Israel had not succeeded in significantly degrading Hezbollah’s military capacity, and there was no realistic prospect of it doing so. As a result, Hezbollah’s prestige had soared in Lebanon and in the Arab world (and the prestige of its allies, Syria and Iran, was growing rather than diminishing). In other words, the assault on Lebanon was having the opposite effect to what was intended when it was launched.

At this point, the US determined that the Israeli assault would have to be called off and signalled that it would allow the Security Council to pass a ceasefire resolution, having used its power as a veto-wielding state to resist any action by the Security Council on the matter since 12 July 2006. The purpose of the resolution was to provide diplomatic cover for the climb down.

Collective punishment

On 12 July 2006, Israel launched a pre-planned assault on Lebanon, using Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers as an excuse. The stated aim of the assault was to recover these two soldiers, but it was ended on 14 August 2006 without their recovery, and resolution 1701 doesn’t even order their release. It is a pound to a penny that they will eventually be released through a process of prisoner exchange, which could have been initiated on 12 July 2006 or shortly thereafter.

Israel’s assault was directed, not only at Hezbollah, but at civilian infrastructure all over Lebanon, so that the whole Lebanese population was made suffer. By applying this collective punishment, Israel hoped was that non-Shiites would blame Hezbollah, which would become politically isolated within Lebanon. With luck, the Lebanese Government and Lebanon would fall apart politically, making it an easy prey for yet another Israeli invasion, this time to destroy Hezbollah.

Unfortunately for Israel, and its allies in Washington and London, the Lebanese Government and people didn’t turn upon Hezbollah. Instead, they blamed Israel, and its US sponsor and arms supplier, for the death and destruction being visited upon them and supported Hezbollah’s resistance. A poll by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information [2] carried out a couple of weeks after Israel’s assault produced the following extraordinary results:

1) Asked Did you support the resistance's move to capture two Israeli soldiers for a prisoners swap? Overall 70% said YES, with a majority in all sects (Sunni 73%, Shiite 96%, Christian 55%) except Druze (40%).


2) Asked Do you support the confrontations carried out by the resistance against the Israeli aggression against Lebanon? Overall 87% said YES, with a large majority in favour in all sects (Sunni 89%, Shiite 96%, Druze 80%, Christian 80%).

What is more, Israel didn’t come close to destroying Hezbollah as a military force. It lost men and materiel but, after 34 days of pounding by Israel, its ability to launch rockets into northern Israel was undiminished. And on 12 and 13 August 2006, the 2 days between the passing of resolution 1701 and the ceasefire, Hezbollah killed 33 Israeli military personnel in southern Lebanon, over a quarter of the total (117) Israeli military killed between 12 July 2006 and 14 August 2006. For an account of this, see Three terrible days by Nehemia Shtrasler (Haaretz, 18 August 2006, [3]).

(All Israeli deaths, civilian and military, are listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website [4], together with some information about how they met their deaths. 43 Israeli civilians were killed, including 4 who died of heart attacks during rocket attacks. A striking feature about the military casualties on the ground is the number killed in their tanks by anti-tank missiles.)

Lessons for Israel

The first lesson of this war for Israel is that Hezbollah cannot be destroyed as a military force without a full-scale ground invasion of Lebanon (which was continually threatened but never happened). The second lesson is that Hezbollah retains the capability to make such an invasion costly for Israel in terms of military casualties - and retains the ability to fire rockets into northern Israel.

Israel has laid waste to large areas of Lebanon and killed over a thousand civilians, but the Hezbollah’s military capability hasn’t been diminished substantially and its prestige in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world has rocketed. For the first time in its history Israel has attempted to destroy an Arab military force on its borders, and failed to do so. What is worse, although this force isn’t capable of threatening Israel’s existence as a state, or of flattening its towns and villages as it has done to Lebanon, this force has the capacity to make life unbearable in northern Israel. This has never happened before in Israel’s history.

As Tim Llewellyn wrote for Counterpunch on 8 August 2006 [5]:

“Israel has made itself the least safe place in the world for a Jew to live, a terrible reflection on the calamity of Zionism for its own people and others.”

Will the ceasefire hold?

Will the ceasefire hold? This depends on whether the US has told Israel to maintain it. Famously, resolution 1701 forbids offensive action by Israel, but not defensive action. Since Israel has never fought a war yet that it didn’t characterise as defensive, the possibilities for defensive action by Israel are limitless and, if the US allows it to indulge itself, after a time Hezbollah will understandably feel obliged to respond by firing a few rockets into Israel - in which case all bets are off.

As this is being written, the media are fixated on whether peacekeeping troops will arrive in south Lebanon sufficiently quickly and in sufficient numbers to reinforce UNIFIL and save the ceasefire. It seems to be forgotten that since it was first deployed in south Lebanon in 1978, UNIFIL has been no impediment to umpteen Israeli invasions of Lebanon, and innumerable other Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Israel isn’t going to be restrained by UNIFIL - even by a greatly enhanced UNIFIL - from engaging in any “defensive” actions it decides to engage in. Only the White House is capable of restraining it.

Condi struggles

Condoleezza Rice was interviewed by Susan Page of USA Today on 15 August 2006 [6], the day after the ceasefire came into effect. If you are seeking confirmation that the US has suffered a political reverse in Lebanon, read this interview.

Poor Condi had great difficulty finding something positive to say about the outcome. The best she could come up with is that Hezbollah is subject to an arms embargo under resolution 1701 (which is true unless it becomes a Lebanese state force). Her other causes for rejoicing are pathetic: first, that Hezbollah was branded “by the international community, by a 15-0 vote of the Security Council as the aggressors”, and, second, that “the Lebanese army is moving south to displace” Hezbollah.

On the first point, she is exaggerating: in a resolution that is heavily biased towards Israel, the hostilities are described reasonably accurately in the preamble, where the Security Council expresses [1]:

“its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah’s attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons”.

On the second point, it is unlikely that Hezbollah is losing sleep at night at the prospect of the Lebanese Army moving south, since there doesn’t seem to be any antagonism between them. It is worth noting here that the Lebanese Army website states [7] that the “resistance [Hezbollah] constitutes a Lebanese strategic interest”, and one doesn’t disarm a national strategic interest.

Condi had to admit that the enhanced UNIFIL wasn’t going to disarm Hezbollah either. She had lauded the “very robust mandate” given to UNIFIL by resolution 1701 saying “if by force of arms, some group tries to interfere with the mandate, which is to keep the south clear of arms and armed groups, … it [UNIFIL] has the right to respond to that kind of aggression”. This prompted Susan Page to ask the reasonable question:

“So would the UN forces be expected … if there are Hezbollah forces, to confront them and to forcibly disarm Hezbollah forces that were in the south?”

she replied:

“Susan, I don’t think there is an expectation that this force is going to physically disarm Hezbollah.”

So, how according to Condi, is Hezbollah to be disarmed? Her answer continued:

“I think it’s a little bit of a misreading of how you disarm a militia. You have to have a plan, first of all, for the disarmament of a militia, and then the hope is that some people lay down their arms voluntarily. You have cantonment areas where heavy arms are -- but the disarmament of militias is essentially a political agreement and the Lebanese Government has said that it intends to live up to its obligations under Resolution 1559 … that they will not have any groups in Lebanon carrying arms that are not a part of the central security forces of Lebanon.”

Does she really expect that a military force that has successfully resisted the might of Israel is going to lay down its arms voluntarily? If she does, she needs her head examined. Does she really believe that the Lebanese Government wants to get rid of the only effective resistance to Israeli invasion and occupation that Lebanon has ever had? Again, if she does, she needs her head examined.

When asked what would happen if Hezbollah refused to disarm, she floundered, eventually coming up with the frightening notion that Hezbollah might be branded a terrorist organisation by European states, as it is now by the US:

“Europe does not, for instance, currently list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. I would think that a refusal [by Hezbollah] to live up to obligations that were undertaken by the Lebanese Government [that is, disarm], clearly putting Hezbollah outside of the Lebanese Government consensus might trigger, for instance, something like that.”

Having heard that threat, Hezbollah have probably dumped their arms already.

State within a state?

US and Israeli propaganda often describes Hezbollah as “a state within a state”, as if it were an alien wedge acting on behalf of Syria and Iran and contrary to the will of the Lebanese Government and people. If that were an accurate description of Hezbollah’s position within Lebanon, then one would have expected that, when Hezbollah’s action on 12 July 2006 triggered a massive Israeli assault, anti-Hezbollah feeling in Lebanon would have been rampant. It wasn’t rampant, because, although Hezbollah has a military capability which is not under the control of the Lebanese Government, it has used it solely to resist Israel and is widely admired outside its Shiite base for this resistance, as the opinion poll results quoted above demonstrate.

This is reflected in the Policy Statement on the basis of which the present Lebanese Government was formed, with Hezbollah participation, and endorsed by the Lebanese Parliament, in July 2005. This Statement recognises the role of the “resistance” (aka Hezbollah) in Lebanese life, and contains a commitment to repatriate Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails. A section entitled Resistance and Foreign Policy says the following [8]:

Protection of the Resistance and recognition that it is a genuine Lebanese manifestation of our right to liberate our lands from any occupation …

“A belief in the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and the commitment to continue follow-up on all Lebanese prisoners and missing in Israeli jails.”

That the Hezbollah military wing is not under the control of the Lebanese Government is a consequence of the way it developed as a resistance movement against Israeli occupation in the Shiite community in southern Lebanon with assistance from Iran. This is an anomaly, but it is an anomaly for the Government and people of Lebanon to sort out, or leave be, as they see fit.

That this is the subject of Security Council resolutions culminating in resolution 1701 is contrary to Article 2.7 of the UN Charter which says that “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state”.

Having said that, it is worth noting that, if Hezbollah were to become a Lebanese state force, the requirements of resolution 1701 would be fulfilled without it giving up any weapons. Resolution 1701 doesn’t specifically require Hezbollah to disarm, merely that there be [1]

“no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” (Paragraph 3)

In March 2006, a “national dialogue” began in Lebanon with 14 confessional leaders, including Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hasan Nasrallah, taking part. Addressing the anomaly was one of the items on the agenda. The “national dialogue” was ongoing on 12 July 2006.




David Morrison
28 August 2006
Labour & Trade Union Review
www.david-morrison.org.uk



References:

[1] http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/465/03/PDF/N0646503.pdf

[2] http://www.beirutcenter.info/default.asp?contentid=692&MenuID=46

[3] www.david-morrison.org.uk/other-documents/shtrasler-haaretz-20060818.htm

[4] See http://www.mfa.gov.il

[5] http://www.counterpunch.org/llewellyn08082006.html

[6] http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/70740.htm

[7] http://www.lebarmy.gov.lb/article.asp?cat=6&ln=en

[8] http://lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com/2005/07/government-policy-statement-historical_28.html


 




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